Nov 22, 2011

Common press release SEO mistakes

One of the most common press release SEO mistakes: long headlines that bury keywords

Developing and implementing a search engine optimization strategy is usually the domain of the web marketing team.  However, as other departments climb aboard the content marketing and brand journalism bandwagons, and accelerate publishing content online, opportunities to improve the organization’s rank in search engines for key terms increase significantly.  It’s important that the entire enterprise builds some coordination and understanding about keyword targeting, use and linking.

The “Agile Engagement” construct we’ve been talking about begins with listening, and in this context, listening is a pretty broad term.  Sure, keeping tabs on social conversations is crucial.  However, another form of listening is paying attention to your audience’s preferences and behaviors when it comes to content and search, respectively.  You can learn a lot from your web site’s analytics, the search terms used to find your blog, and what content on your site and blog is most popular. Given the connection between search and social, SEO and the practices that comprise it (keyword research, linking, content optimization) need to be part of an agile and nimble approach to communications.

Mistakes many press release writers make:

From my vantage point here at PR Newswire, I have the opportunity to see a few press releases.  Here are the most common mistakes I see that prevent organizations from taking full advantage of the search engine visibility press releases can deliver.

  • No links.  Most press releases do not include anchor text links – those embedded links which take the reader from a word or phrase to a related web page on the issuing company’s site.
  • Too many links.  On the other hand,  I see many companies go overboard when they decide to use links, and wind up looking spammy to search engines.
  • Irrelevant, or as I like to say, “stupid” links, which are links drawn from throwaway words that have no bearing on the issuer’s business, such as “click here” or “contact” or “for more information.” (See How to add embedded anchor text links to press releases for more advice.)
  • Ponderously long headlines groaning with jargon, and contain no keywords.  Search engines don’t index more than the first 65 characters or so, and no one wants to read a long headline anyway – our eyes start to glaze over.
  • Use of jargon, not the actual terms people use when plugging search terms into Google et al.  In my business, an example would be an “end to end monitoring solution for social conversations,” rather than the popular search term “social media monitoring.”   In the same vein, organizations slavishly cling to more formal language, rather than the language of their audience.  You can see lots of good examples of this in the automotive arena, where companies use words like “pre-owned automobile” (versus “used car”) and “automotive window film” (versus “car window tint”).  Do you say “I have to take the auto in for an oil change?”  I didn’t think so.
  • Too many stories in one press release.  Trying to appeal to all vertical markets or tell three key stories (Company A Announces Launch of Product X, New Customer Portal  and Hire of Joe Schmoe) in one missive just doesn’t work – for either search engines or readers.  Specificity and relevance are the hallmarks of effective communications.  Stay on message in your press releases, and write another if you have separate stories to tell.  Long, multi-message releases are almost impossible to optimize, and present challenges for targeting media and bloggers, as well.
  • Over-optimization of the content.  Five years ago,  keyword density (the number of times your keywords were used in relation to the overall length of the press release) was an important SEO factor.  Today, search engines are more sophisticated, and wooden-sounding, keyword-stuffed content runs the risk of being labeled as spam.  Natural writing – including keywords and related acronyms – is the way to go, and happily, it’s also what real people prefer.  Content optimization today is very much about producing readable and relevant messages.

I’m going to continue the SEO discussion tomorrow, with a deep dive into the specifics of using keywords and links effectively in press releases and other content to build visibility for the web site you’re promoting.  What other SEO-related questions do you have?

Author Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of social media, and is the author of the free ebook Unlocking Social Media for PR.

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